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his mind when, on the 17th of March, three days before Lord North's resignation, he addressed to his Prime Minister the following mysterious words:-'I am resolved not to throw ' myself into the hands of Opposition, at all events, and shall
certainly, if things go as they seem to tend, know what my conscience as well as honour dictates, as the only way left for me.'
Lord North's resignation, involving the dissolution of his Ministry, and the pacification with America, took place on the 20th of March, 1782. The following lively account of the scene which passed that night in the House of Commons is left by Lord Holland :
I have heard my uncle Fitzpatrick give a very diverting account of the scene that passed in the House of Commons on the day of Lord North's resignation, which happened to be a remarkable cold day, with a fall of snow. A motion of Lord Surrey's, for the disa missal of Ministers, stood for that day, and the Whigs were anxious that it should come on before the resignation of Lord North was officially announced, that his removal from office might be more manifestly and formally the act of the House of Commons. He and Lord Surrey rose at the same instant; after much clamour, disorder, and some insignificant speeches on order, Mr. Fox, with great quickness and address, moved, as the most regular method of extricating the House from its embarrassment, “ That Lord Surrey be now heard." But Lord North, with yet more admirable presence of mind, mixed with pleasantry, rose immediately and said, " I rise to speak to that “motion ;” and, as his reason for opposing it, stated his resignation and the dissolution of the Ministry. The House, satisfied, became impatient, and after some ineffectual efforts of speakers on both sides to procure a hearing, an adjournment took place. Snow was falling, and the night tremendous. All the members' carriages were dismissed, and Mrs. Bennet's room at the door was crowded. But Lord North’s carriage was waiting. He put into it one or two of his friends, whom he had invited to go home with him, and turning to the crowd, chiefly composed of his bitter enemies, in the midst of their triumph, exclaimed, in this hour of defeat and supposed mortification, with admirable good humour and pleasantry, “I have my "carriage. You see, gentlemen, the advantage of being in the “ secret. Good night.”' (Vol. i. p. 295.)*
The history of the formation of the new Ministry is not a little remarkable, and
clearly explains its internal feebleness and speedy extinction. The King began by applying, through the Chancellor Thurlow, to Lord Rockingham, as leader of the principal section of the Whig's, in order to learn the terms upon
* The same story is told in Wraxall's “ Historical Memoirs,' vol. ii. p. 607., ed. 1836.
which he would undertake to form an administration.* These were, in substance, the independence of America, and measures for diminishing the influence of the Crown. Unwilling to capitulate on these terms, the King next made an attempt to induce Lord Gower to undertake the formation of a government; but without success. In his letter authorising this application, he declared that he could never submit to a total change without
abandoning his principles and honour, which he would never . do.' The King then sent for Lord Shelburne, and asked him to form a government; he declined the offer, and advised the King to prefer Lord Rockinghamt: a fact which he did not then disclose, but which he stated in the House of Lords after Lord Rockingham's death f, and which was also mentioned at the same time by the King to Mr. Fox.S In the first interview nothing was arranged, but three days afterwards the King sent again for Lord Shelburne, who returned, bringing an offer of the Treasury to Lord Rockingham, and full powers to treat, both as to men and measures; he himself was to be a Secretary of State. Lord Rockingham at first hesitated as to the propriety of accepting an offer made in so indirect and mistrustful a manner; but upon consultation with Mr. Fox and other friends, he decided (perhaps unwisely (l) not to reject it. He accom
* The particulars of this negotiation through Lord Thurlow, are given in Lord Albemarle's Memoirs of Lord Rockingham,' vol. ii.
† Lord Mahon, vol. vi. p. 397., gives the following extract from the Duke of Grafton's Memoirs respecting the failure of the negotiation with the Opposition in 1779, already mentioned :- This cir
cumstance cemented the Opposition into a more solid body, and * furnished the means, that Lord Camden and I improved, by per
suading Lord Shelburne not to contest with Lord Rockingham the "Treasury, in case a new administration was to be formed. Lord
Shelburne yielded the point with a better grace than I had expected.'
| July 10. 1782.
& Memorials of Fox, vol. i. p. 436. Bishop Watson, in the anecdotes of his Life, says:-Lord Rockingham told me that Lord • Shelburne had behaved very honourably to him in not accepting the · Treasury, which the King had offered to him in preference to Lord * Rockingham.' (P. 93. 4to.)
| After the resignation of the Shelburne Administration, the King applied to Lord North, who declined to undertake the formation of a Ministry himself, and advised the King to apply to the Duke of Portland. "Lord North,' says H. Walpole, proposed to the King to see
the Duke of Portland himself; but that the King refused, and told . Lord North to desire the Duke to send him his arrangement in ' writing. This was as positively refused by the Duke, who sent panied his acceptance, however, with a list of the Cabinet, in which he was himself First Lord of the Treasury, and Mr. Fox and Lord Shelburne the Secretaries of State. The office of Chancellor was alone left open. On the same evening a large meeting of members of the House of Commons was held at the house of Mr. T. Townshend, to which this list was submitted.
The list, having been approved by this meeting, was sent to Lord Shelburne, who agreed to the arrangement, and communicated the names to the King. Lord Shelburne had a long interview with the King on the following day, and then went to Mr. Fox to inform him that the proposals were substantially adopted. At this interview Mr. Fox told Lord Shelburne that he perceived this Administration was to consist of two parts, one belonging to the King, the other to the public. Lord Thurlow continued as Chancellor, and Mr. Dunning, created Lord Ashburton, was added to the Cabinet, upon the suggestion of Lord Shelburne, without previous communication with Lord Rockingham.
It thus appears that the King, though he prudently yielded to the pressure of a parliamentary majority, and abandoned his intention of retiring to Hanover, yet bowed his neck under the yoke of Opposition with visible reluctance. He refused to see his future Prime Minister until he was actually in office; and by giving his chief apparent confidence to another member of the Cabinet, he laid the fourdation of discord and distrust in the Government from its very commencement. The seed thus carefully sown began soon to germinate. Even as early as the 28th of April — about a month after the formation of the Government - Mr. Fox writes as follows to Fitzpatrick:
• Shelburne shows himself more and more every day; is ridiculously jealous of my encroaching on his department, and wishes very much to encroach upon mine. He hardly liked my having a letter from Grattan, or my having written one to Lord Charlemont.* He affects the Minister more and more every day, and is, I believe, perfectly confident that the King intends to make him so. Provided we can stay in long enough to have given a good stout blow to the in
word that if his Majesty condescended to employ him, it would be necessary for him to see his Majesty' (Mem. of Fox, vol. ii. p. 49.) It ended by the King seeing the Duke of Portland, and his becoming Prime Minister. The above account is confirmed by Lord Grenville's relation of his interview with the King, who showed him the correspondence with Lord North and the Duke of Portland. (Buckingham Papers, vol. i. p. 213.)
As Lord Shelburne was Home Secretary, the Irish business was in his department.
fluence of the Crown, I do not think it much signifies how soon we go out after, and leave him and the Chancellor to make such a government as they can; and this I think we shall be able to do.' (Vol. i. p. 316.)
The practical working of our Government has undergone so great a change since 1780, notwithstanding the preservation of its forms, that it is important not to misunderstand the true character of the struggle which was terminated by the overthrow of Lord North's Ministry. It was a struggle of the King's personal will, supported by the influence of the Crown, against the independent portion of the House of Commons. The war against the insurgent colonies had at first been highly popular* ; but a succession of disasters turned the tide of public feeling, and the country were ready to adopt the views of all the ablest men in both Houses of Parliament, who recommended either large concessions, or entire independence. But the King remained unmoved : he would not consent to a dismemberment of the Empire; and he found in Lord North and his colleagues Ministers who were ready to persist in the policy to which he adhered, even when it was contrary to their own convictions. Against this Ministry, Fox, Burke, and other powerful speakers, thundered night after night, denouncing their principles, conduct, motives, and capacity in the most vehement language, and sometimes directing their fire over the Treasury Bench at the Throne. When the battle was over, Fox openly treated it as a victory of the House of Commons over the King. On the night when Lord North announced his resignation, he said, that as the House had now proved their abhorrence of a • Government of influence, the new Ministers must ever bear • in mind that fact, and remember that to the House they owed their situations. Moreover, before the list of the proposed Cabinet was presented to the King, it had been submitted to a meeting of the Whig party, and had received their sanction. By placing the question on this issue, George III. abandoned the secure, dignified, and neutral position of a constitutional king, and entered upon the perilous career of a party-leader. He protested against changing his principles, threw out obscure threats of abdicating the throne, and staked his political reputation against Fox and the leaders of Opposition. The result was, that he underwent the humiliation of a personal defeat; but he had sufficient prudence to tolerate for a time a Ministry composed of men whom he regarded as his personal enemies,
• See Lord Mahon, vol. vi. p. 68.
rather than attempt some act of unconstitutional violence, or bring the machine of Government to a stand-still.
The Rockingham Ministry lasted just three months. Lord North resigned on the 20th of March. Lord Rockingham died on the lst of July.* Two days after his death, Mr. Fox advised the King to appoint as his successor some member of the Rockingham party. The King announced his intention of preferring Lord Shelburne, to whom Fox objected; but the King adhered to his resolution, and Fox, followed by Lord John Cavendish, with Burke, Sheridan, and others not in the Cabinet, resigned. Lord Shelburne then became Prime Minister, with Pitt as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. Lord Keppel, General Conway, and the Duke of Richmond, the other three members of the Rockingham party in the Cabinet, retained their offices, and did not go out with Fox.
Among the Rockingham Whigs, the Duke of Richmond considered himself as having the first claim to the post of Prime Minister. He was, however, rejected by his friends on account of his extreme opinions on Parliamentary Reform; and Mr. Fox, as being his kinsman f, was employed to impart to him the unwelcome intelligence, which he executed thus: We must (he
said) settle without delay whom to propose as the successor of • Lord Rockingham; and as you and I are both out of the ' question, owing to the decided part we have taken about • Parliamentary Reform, I think the Duke of Portland should be
the man. The Duke of Portland was, however, chiefly recommended for this post by his rank and respectable character; and in point of capacity and fitness for the office of Prime Minister, he was decidedly inferior to Lord Shelburne.
We have been the more particular in describing this change of Administration, because we believe that Fox's decision to separate himself from Lord Shelburne was the turning point of his political life, and exercised an enormous influence upon the subsequent course of events. His motive for this decision was his distrust of Lord Shelburne, whom he believed to be systematically insincere, and whom he likewise suspected of intriguing with the King against his colleagues. This suspicion
* • The King (says Horace Walpole) showed his aversion to Lord Rockingham so indecently and unfeelingly, that, though he had accepted him for his Minister, he did not once send to inquire how the Marquis did when he was dying.' (Mem. of Fox, vol. i. p. 440.)
† Mr. Fox was the nephew of the Duke of Richmond. His mother was the Duke's sister. The present Duke of Richmond is the great nephew of the Duke in question.